In a major political development, legislators of the ruling Naga People's Front (NPF) in Nagaland gave a new twist on Saturday extending their support to Neiphiu Rio as the new legislature party leader, to replace embattled Chief Minister TR Zeliang.
The move came after more than 50 legislators, including Independent members of the 60-member Nagaland Assembly, "signed a letter of support" in favour of the state's lone Lok Sabha member Rio.
"More than 50 (NPF and Independents) legislators have decided to support Rio as the new legislature party leader," Public Health Engineering Minister, Tokheho Yepthomi said.
42 of the 49 legislators had unanimously extended support to NPF chief Shurhozelie Liezietsu as the new CM on Wednesday to break the deadlock between the agitating groups and the government. However, a group of nearly 20 legislators, including some cabinet ministers, were against Shurhozelie.
In the 60-member assembly, the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland coalition government comprises 48 NPF legislators, including suspended legislator Imkong Imchen, four of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and eight Independent legislators.
In fact, Rio and Zeliang met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on late Friday in New Delhi, and finalized change of guard to break the deadlock between the agitating groups and government over the issue of 33 per cent reservation for women in civic elections.
The state has been on turmoil since January, after the NPF-led government decided to hold local body elections in 12 towns across the state with 33 per cent reservation for women.
Agitating tribal groups – under the banner of NTAC and Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) – have been demanding the resignation of Zeliang over his decision to conduct civic bodies' elections with 33 per cent reservation for women.
Internet and mobile data service has been scrapped in the state to stop the spread of rumours through social networking sites. The government later declared the civic elections as "null" and "void".
Three persons were killed and many injured following clashes between the police and the public, who were opposing the civic polls.
NPF legislator Neiphrezo Keditsu had resigned as Chairman of Nagaland State Mineral Development Corporation Limited on moral grounds as one of the persons killed in the Dimapur police firing was from his village.
Nagaland has never elected a woman legislator since it gained statehood in 1963. The lone woman MP from the state was Rano M Shaiza, who got elected in 1977.
In the 2013 Assembly elections, two women candidates – one fielded by BJP and an Independent candidate – contested unsuccessfully.
(With inputs from Agencies)